Any hiring manager who has tried to recruit help desk or technical support professionals in recent months knows the demand for top talent is high. One major reason is that many of the best workers simply are not on the market. The unemployment rate for computer support specialists was only 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, well below the national average. And in a survey of more than 1,600 CIOs, 46 percent said desktop support topped the list of the most in-demand technical skills.
Given that many companies are expanding their operations, competition for help desk professionals will only intensify. Eighty-eight percent of CIOs surveyed for Robert Half Technology’s most recent IT Hiring Index and Skills Report said they are confident in their companies’ growth prospects in the first quarter of 2012. Of course, growth means more investment in IT—and thus, higher demand for IT support. Not surprisingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of computer support specialists to increase by 14 percent between 2008 and 2018, a pace that is faster than the average for all occupations.
Given these trends, it is easy to see why both hiring and retaining talented help desk and technical support professionals are becoming increasingly challenging endeavors. The following are some strategies to help your company gain an edge in the war for skilled technical and desktop support professionals.
Pay IT Staff Competitively
While money is not always the most important factor for job candidates, talented professionals may consider other opportunities if their compensation is not appropriate. Re-examine the salaries you offer for key positions to verify they are in line with what competitors are paying for the same roles.
Resources like the Robert Half Technology 2012 Salary Guide and 2011 HDI Salary Report can provide insights on current and upcoming compensation trends. Our research indicates that average starting salaries for all technical services, help desk, and technical support roles will increase in the year ahead. For example, according to the Robert Half Technology 2012 Salary Guide, employers will need to pay more in 2012 to recruit IT professionals for the following roles:
Systems Administrator: $59,000 to $81,750, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2011 levels
Systems Engineer: $68,750 to $87,500, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2011 levels
Tier 3 Help Desk: $57,500 to $75,250, an increase of 4.5 percent over 2011 levels
Similarly, if current staff members’ salaries are not in line with the marketplace, they may look elsewhere. Check online salary surveys to make sure the compensation you are offering is appropriate.
Trumpet Your Company’s Strengths
Have you also thought about whether you are doing enough to underscore what makes your company a great place to work? For example, maybe your organization strongly emphasizes work/life balance, allows IT professionals to use cutting-edge technology, or offers reimbursement for job-related educational expenses. Perhaps your business is admired for its socially responsible activities or has an outstanding employee cafeteria. Whatever your company’s best attributes may be, highlight them in your recruiting materials and your firm’s intranet or employee newsletter. This can help your firm attract new talent while also reminding current employees why they made a smart choice by joining—and remaining with—the organization.
Make Professional Growth a Priority
During the recession, many employers put professional development programs on hold due to budget constraints. But IT professionals in particular like to expand their knowledge and skills and explore new technologies. That is why offering such opportunities can be a powerful retention and recruiting tool.
The good news is that professional development efforts do not have to be expensive. Cost-effective options include providing challenging assignments and project leadership roles, connecting staff with mentors, and crosstraining. If you have the budget to do so, enroll top-performing employees in eLearning courses.
Another tip: If you do offer these opportunities to your IT staff, make sure you also give them the time and resources necessary to take full advantage of them.
Promote Autonomy and Teamwork
Most IT workers today place a premium on autonomy and the ability to make decisions themselves. So cultivating a work environment where help desk and technical support personnel are empowered to develop their own solutions to problems contributes to recruitment and retention.
At the same time, encourage a collegial atmosphere, where staff members can share ideas and opinions and collaborate with others to strategize, solve problems, and achieve objectives. This not only builds trust and camaraderie across a team, it also promotes knowledge sharing that can help everyone perform better and, therefore, feel more confident in their roles. For example, when a technical support professional successfully resolves a particularly challenging issue, have her share any insights gained through this experience so colleagues can apply that knowledge to address similar problems in the future.
Make It Easier for Talent to Find You
Creating realistic and accurate job descriptions also plays a key role in attracting highly qualified help desk and technical support specialists to your firm. Vague or outdated descriptions can result in a landslide of résumés from unqualified applicants. They also can inadvertently convince talented candidates that they should not bother to apply for the position.
Focus on “must-have” requirements, including education levels and professional credentials, such as the HDI Customer Service Representative certification or the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer designation. And do not overlook other attributes a candidate will need to excel in the role and in your organization—for example, strong interpersonal skills. The Robert Half Technology 2012 Salary Guide, the 2011 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report, and the 2011 HDI Desktop Support Practices & Salary Report include sample job descriptions for IT support professionals that can serve as useful models.
Recruiting and Retaining Talent through Flexible Staffing
Many leading employers are finding that the staffing strategy they used to weather the recession is now helping them recruit and retain skilled IT talent: flexible staffing. The use of both interim and full-time employees enables you to staff up or down quickly and cost-effectively as business needs fluctuate, and reduces the burden on core staff when workloads spike. It also provides an opportunity to evaluate potential full-time candidates.
Working closely with interim personnel for an extended period or through repeat engagements allows you to assess a potential hire’s ability to collaborate effectively with existing staff and succeed in the prevailing corporate culture. Being able to place people already familiar with the company culture and specific job responsibilities and expectations means you may not need to expend valuable resources on a broader candidate search. You also may be able to reduce onboarding and training costs.
A recent survey of CIOs revealed that technical support teams are often understaffed, by an average of 42 percent. By using flexible staffing to ease the burden on core help desk and technical support specialists, you can enhance retention efforts. Furthermore, maintaining a positive work/life balance is a priority for many professionals today, so the need to engage additional support to help stave off burnout is especially clear.
Don’t Take IT Talent for Granted
Remember, your own employees are fair game in a market where the demand for skilled help desk and technical support specialists is higher than the supply. Turnover can be costly for your firm. Aside from lost productivity, losing critical IT support and skills just when the organization is ready to expand or embark on critical new technology initiatives can be a difficult setback to recover from. This is why it is critical to be proactive about letting talented individuals, whether new hires or longtime employees, know how much they are valued.
Every professional wants to be commended for a job well done. If staff members believe their contributions are valued and truly make a difference, they’ll be more inclined to stay with your firm.
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To emerge as a winner in the war for talent, your business will need to work hard to locate and hold on to the most skilled and experienced help desk and technical support professionals available. If you do not act now, you risk allowing competitors to recruit your top talent, leaving you without the resources your business needs to succeed in the mission-critical campaigns that lie ahead.
How Job Seekers Can Speed Up the Hiring Process
While you may not be doing anything “wrong” in your employment search, you may be overlooking some important steps. Here are some tips to help increase your chances of being invited to an interview and securing a job offer.
Reassess Your Résumé
Your résumé should be up to date. Delete old, irrelevant skills or jobs. For instance, you do not need to say that you worked as a waiter in college if you are applying for a midlevel help desk position. Also, make sure your job application materials underscore the skills, talents, and credentials that make you most marketable and valuable as an IT candidate. Instead of the traditional objective statement, many candidates today use a brief summary that succinctly highlights their most relevant, notable qualifications nd accomplishments. This approach can help give busy hiring managers a snapshot view of what is most important to know about you as an IT professional.
Network, Network, Network
The strength of your professional network can have a significant impact on the success of your job search. So if you have only a few contacts in your network—or keep in touch primarily with peers who are also in the market for IT roles—it is time to raise your visibility and meet new people who can help you make the right connections. Use social media sites like LinkedIn or Twitter to regularly engage with those in your network by sharing relevant information, contributing to conversations, and commenting on others’ posts, tweets, and updates. But remember to take advantage of opportunities in the “real world,” too.
Seek Professional Guidance
Re-energize your job search process by seeking the advice of a career coach or professional recruiter. A career coach can provide encouragement and advice for clarifying professional goals. A specialized recruiter can offer similar guidance, and help you find IT project positions. Interim work arrangements can help you earn income—and keep your skills fresh—while you continue to seek full-time employment.
Even in a hot field like IT, it can take time to find the right job. The hiring landscape is crowded, and many firms have extended the recruitment process to avoid bad hires. However, by fine-tuning your résumé, expanding your professional network strategically, and seeking advice from reputable career consultants, you can likely shorten the wait until your next interview—and, more importantly, your next job offer.
John Reed is the executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading specialized-staffing firm that places IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. John has an extensive background in both IT and staffing, including twelve years in IT product sales and eleven years in the staffing industry. He is a frequently quoted expert on employment trends in the IT field, and he is involved with several professional organizations, including the Association of IT Professionals and HDI. John received his BA in public affairs and administration from the University of Oklahoma.